Nelson Maldonado photo by Paige Santiago / UAA Communications

Gators with important mid-week contests

As the Florida Gators try to close out the baseball season with league play, they find themselves with a couple of mid-week home games against in-state foes that they have to contend with. Tuesday night the Gators take on Florida A&M (23-19) for the first time this season and Wednesday they have a rematch against Jacksonville University (25-17) in a rematch of a loss the Gators faced at their place back in February.

The perceived weakness of this team in the preseason is going to have to step up big in the next two days. Florida went into the season with a remade bullpen stocked full of freshmen that have had their growing pains. The Gators have seen some of them grow up and this is an opportunity for more to jump into the action.

With Michael Byrne closing out and saving all three games against Georgia this past weekend, he’s off the list of pitchers that will throw in the next two days. Others will have to do their thing.

“We’re going to have to get some help from some of our younger pitchers because we’ll probably try and rest Mike this week,” O’Sullivan said following Sundays win over the Bulldogs. “He came out of the bullpen three times this week. We’re going to need some help. We need to keep scoring runs and get some help from some pitchers that haven’t seen the mound for a while.”

Scoring runs is something that is coming a little easier for this team as of late. Junior J.J. Schwarz, sophomore Nelson Maldonado, and a few others have been swinging the bat better.

Schwarz has seen his batting average rise a bit as of lat. In the last eight games, he’s 11-of-28 (.392) with three home runs, half of the amount of dingers he has in the entire season. Maldonado is batting .322 on the season and has three home runs to his name as well. Maldonado had a really good series at Georgia and has batted .360 over the last eight games stepping up his game.

The Gators have stepped up offense without two mainstays in junior catcher Mike Rivera and sophomore third baseman Jonathan India.  

“He’s just one of those unsung heroes,” O’Sullivan said of Maldonado. “We have so many guys and it’s just a long season. I know the first half of the year we were all frustrated coaches, players, fans… why we weren’t scoring enough runs, but it’s a long season. You just have to keep grinding it out. Now we’re winning games without arguably two of our better hitters in Rivera and India. Hopefully we’ll get back India next week against Ole Miss (they play a three game series over the weekend). He threw today and felt great. Mikey’s probably two weeks away.

“Once we can get everybody healthy, with our pitching the way it’s been lined up we can be tough to beat come postseason.

The Gators (30-13, 13-8 SEC) have to concentrate most on an SEC race that finds them one game out of first place in the SEC East trailing Kentucky and their 14-7 SEC mark. But they are also in contention for a top national seed in the NCAA Tournament to conclude the year. They need to be in the top eight nationally and currently find themselves seventh. These midweek games are important for those reasons.

The bats need to continue, but the bullpen guys are front and center this week. 

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